Confession time. I love a good short story, but they have to be very, very good to pass muster. Thirty odd years ago I discovered Stephen King and I thought he was good, and for years thought he was the best. Now the guys not even in my top ten. The best, for me, is the guy that I can read and reread over and over again because anyone of his stories is just that damned good.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Montague Rhodes James.
It’s a pretty high bar. Lovecraft made a decent fist of it, Howard was almost there, Le Fanu and Saki close by. James is just that bit better. Each story is so polished, so perfectly crafted that they leave me with a feeling of awe and admiration. That’s what I look for in any short story that I read.
So I picked up StoryHack hoping for a little bit of that. I headed straight for David J. Wests tale because I’ve read one of his yarns featuring Porter Anderson and thoroughly enjoyed it. The guy already had coin with me, and so I came to the table expecting to like it. I wasn’t disappointed.
Okay, some spoilers may lie ahead, but I’ll do my best to avoid them.
King of Spades has a rock-solid concept. Take zombies and put them in biblical times. What is there not to love about that? Throw in Lilith, King David, the Witch of Endor and an enemy that keeps coming back for more and you have a serious contender. Add a loyal general, some self-doubt, and great battles and you have a solid gold story. The pace is great, dialogue is good and the characters likable where they should be and it’s a genuine pleasure to read. Be in no doubt, I enjoyed this.
I…have an issue though.
I don’t think that this should have been a short story. There’s just so much that I would have liked to have seen explored that you could have got a full novel out of. I would have liked to have seen West’s depiction of King David developed. More of Lilith, more battles, more stakes and greater tension. The concept is certainly strong enough to handle it, and West is a good enough author to pull it off. I’m telling you now that I would pre-order this book on day one of pre-sale.
You never get that feeling with James, his stories leave no room to be anything more than what they are. Everything is told and nothing is left out which is where their power lies. Kudos though to David for a cracking story.